Food Venture Program helping businesses and entrepreneurs integrate sustainable and resilient business models

Kiran Bains and Sima Gandhi met and bonded over a passion for food. When Kiran finished her master's degree, she wanted to apply her background in clinical nutrition to food product consulting but didn’t know how to enter the consulting field. Pivoting into consumer-packaged goods (CPG) wasn’t typical for someone with her educational background, but when Kiran met Sima, who was working with entrepreneurs, it was a perfect fit. In general, arts-based businesses do not have a lot of support available as funding and courses are more focused on tech, medicine, and health innovation. There are limited supports for areas that are not as niche and may only be addressing a small issue or idea. To address the gap in the market for this type of education, Sima and Kiran created Food Venture Program where they can work with entrepreneurs and food.

Food Venture Program initially worked with start-ups in the food industry but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit they realized the need to support established restaurants as well. Their pivot focused on ways to help restaurants develop new revenue streams and CPG products for retail. When Food Venture Program discovered the Seeding Our Food Future opportunity, they immediately knew how they wanted to help food entrepreneurs and restaurants. One of the main focuses of Food Venture Program is to get circularity on the agenda for businesses from the beginning rather than first developing the business and then having to later pivot to a circular or more sustainable model. This will save a lot of businesses the effort of having to make changes later due to the inevitable future of switching to more sustainable practices. Not only do these courses have environmental benefits, but they also create opportunities for operational efficiency and financial benefits to help make businesses more resilient.

Food Venture Program started adding sustainability modules into their courses in November and by 2021 they will have fully integrated a mandatory sustainability aspect. The curriculum will be a case-study type of class with examples of previous food companies that have incorporated sustainable practices in food processing, manufacturing, or other functions. Business-to-business collaborations are essential to decrease the amount of food wasted and lost in the cycle. Food Venture Program works with approximately 20 businesses per cohort that are a variety of the in-between stages of the food value chain, like manufacturing and distribution, and can help them implement processes that will allow their business models to be sustainable and prevent potential food waste from the very beginning. The education piece of the program has been key in creating sustainable and circular businesses from the beginning stage.

For Sima and Kiran, circularity is culturally embedded into their lives. Both have first generation immigrant parents who came from places where food waste is not an option and a way must be found to repurpose the ‘waste’. Sima noted that North American cultures do not feel the same pain when throwing away food as many other cultures do. There needs to be a shift in the emotional connection to food to spark change in society to a circular model. Kiran expressed that there is a lack of research about the cultural aspects of sustainability and the effects that different parts of the world have on the food industry. There is a lot to learn from other cultures by observing the ways they repurpose food and view sustainable practices. Through the Food Venture Program, Sima and Kiran are directly assisting businesses to incorporate circularity from the beginning, and broadly guiding the food industry to become a more sustainable sector.

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